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Families and Family Policies in Europe. Comparative Perspectives

By Astrid Pfenning and Thomas Bahle

Comparative family policy studies have flourished in recent years. The enormous expansion of the field since the pioneering work of Kamerman and Kahn (1978) has been accompanied by a growing variety of perspectives, theoretical and methodological approaches (Gauthier, 1999). At the same time, family policy has become more closely connected to welfare state research (Esping-Andersen, 1999; Hantrais, 1999).
Results of comparative projects suggest that Western European countries can be broadly clustered into five groups with similar family policy features (see also Kaufmann, 1993): the Scandinavian countries with heavily child-orientated policies and emphasis on gender equality (based on social citizenship rights coupled with highly-developed social services and high compatibility of family and work); Britain and Ireland with a liberal, non-interventionist family policy, addressing poor families and children at risk (based on the idea of private autonomy with limited public services and benefits); the Southern European countries with weak welfare states and strong kinship ties (based on high family solidarity combined with scarce public services and low family benefits); France and Belgium as the European pioneers of family policy with a combination of traditional and progressive policy elements (based on the recognition of the family as an important social institution, supported by both generous family allowances and social services); Germany and Austria with less developed and more conservative family policies (with institutional recognition of the family, based on financial support, modestly developed services, and less compatibility of family and work).

Plan of the book

The book aims to contribute to comparative family policy research by a distinct profile: the geographic focus is on Southern Europe and Scandinavia, sometimes compared to other European countries; contributions typically include a small number of cases, and the book combines quantitative and qualitative approaches as well as institutional and historical perspectives.
The geographic focus generates a particular view of Europe which is mainly seen from the perspectives of peripheries: Southern Europe and Scandinavia. Most contributions focus on one of these groups or include a Southern or Scandinavian country in their comparisons. Southern and Scandinavian countries represent distinct groups within the European spectrum, often regarded as opposites: the persistence of close kinship relations in Southern Europe is juxtaposed to the paramount importance of the individual in Scandinavia; the significance of the family in the social division of labour is reverse in both cases; and the importance of public and private realms is at opposite ends within Europe. These fundamental differences suggest distinct models of family policy. On the other hand, variations within both groups have received growing attention due to delayed, but rapid modernization in Southern Europe and the impact of economic recession on Scandinavian welfare states, which have sharpened 'old' and produced new differences within groups.
Articles typically focus on a small number of countries, ranging from case studies to a maximum of five countries; the most frequent design is a comparison of two to three countries. Such a design is well-suited for understanding institutional arrangements in individual countries without sacrificing the advantages of the comparative approach. It leads to cautious interpretations of empirical findings and allows for investigation of specificities of individual cases which are often overlooked in largescale comparisons. The 'smalln design' sharpens the view for historical developments which have shaped a country's family system and policy in specific ways.
The book has two parts. One deals with family policy patterns, including politics of family policies, family models, and ideologies. The other examines individual family policy fields in a comparative perspective: female employment, lone parents, childcare institutions, and policies for children and youth; in this part, comparisons include other European countries as well.

Family policy patterns

The first two contributions explore family policy in Southern Europe. Lluis Flaquer identifies core elements of a Southern European model of family policy and attempts to discern its dynamics, reproductive mechanisms, and major challenges. Differences between Southern European countries are regarded as variations within the same basic model: a strong family and kinship system, a weak welfare state, and a highly segregated labour market have reinforced each other and shaped this model in which 'the welfare family is the welfare state'. The survival of the model is threatened by rising female participation in education and employment and declining birth rates.
Carlos and Maratou-Alipranti describe emerging new family forms in Southern Europe and their impact on family policy developments. Their main argument is one of delayed modernization. New family forms, like dual-earner and lone-parent families, have started growing much later in Southern Europe and are still rare compared to other European countries. Up to now, family policy has not considered them as central issues. Instead, the poverty risks of families have received attention through selective measures.
The impact of political systems in Southern Europe with long periods of authoritarian rule, delayed democratization, and political systems which are said to operate on a clientelistic basis are analysed by Monica Carlos and Manuela Naldini, aiming at explaining the lack of explicit family policies in these highly family-orientated countries. Carlos describes the cases of Spain, Greece and Portugal, where since the advent of democracy, family policy has been identified with conservative, Fascist policies of the past. On the other hand, various implicit family policy measures have been developed, in particular selective measures combatting the poverty of families. The impact of parties' ideologies on family policies has been weak, however, because governments have concentrated on issues regarded as more pressing than family policy, such as unemployment, poverty, and (later) membership in the European Community.
Naldini compares family policy-making in Spain and Italy with respect to family allowances which have been constantly in decline. Only in 1988 in Italy and in 1990 in Spain were major reforms enacted whereby family allowances became meanstested, antipoverty measures. The long way to reform in Italy is explained by a political system characterized by piece-meal reforms seeking to compromise different actors under the predominance of Christian democracy. Moreover, the highly clientelistic character of the Italian political system prevented the politicization of more 'general' family interests.
The Scandinavian model and its variations are studied by Bent Greve and Gudny Björk Eydal. The widely shared assumption in comparative research about these countries is one of highly-developed welfare states emphasizing social citizenship rights, gender equality and individualism. Greve aims at showing the persistence of a distinct Scandinavian model of family policy. His analysis shows that core elements of the model are still there, although there are variations, for example in the socalization of child care costs. Greve distinguishes between the family-friendly and 'high-solidarity' welfare states, Finland and Denmark, and the more transfer-based welfare states, Sweden and Norway.
Eydal looks at child-care institutions and services in the Nordic countries, especially in Iceland. She attempts to explain Iceland's exceptionalism which is characterized by a small-scale welfare state, a limited public child-care system and, at the same time, one of the highest rates of full-time labour force participation of women. Eydal points first of all to political factors, since in Iceland rightwing parties were in government most of the time after World War II, but cultural factors seem to have played a role as well, above all traditions of individual selfreliance that have historically characterized Icelandic society.
Keeping the differences between Southern European and Scandinavian countries in mind, what can reasonably be expected from an EU family policy? Doris Weiss addresses this question in her contribution. showing that the impact of Council directives and European Court decisions on family policy has been limited to removing barriers to free mobility of labour (including families of workers) and gender equality on the labour market. As in other areas of social policy, the European approach has foremost been one of coordination rather than harmonization and can be critized of being too restrictive for pursuing the idea of a European social citizenship.
In a broader perspective, family laws and regulations also express what is regarded as legitimate or 'ideal' social behaviour. Undoubtedly, the family has been a major battlefield for struggles between values and ideologies, and we can find traces of these in laws, attitudes and people's behaviour. Eriikka Oinonen and Esther Fernández Mostaza embark on studies of family models and ideologies in their contributions. Oinonen compares family institutions in Spain and Finland. In both countries, changes in law and behaviour have gone in the same direction, but timing, speed and outcomes have been different. In Spain, the emergence and growth of more liberal and individualized aspects of law and behaviour were delayed, but changes have been dramatic since the advent of democracy and the opening of cultural borders. Today, Spaniards are among Europeans with most liberal attitudes towards modern living arrangements, although family behaviour remains traditional. At the same time, the family is upheld as a major value and institution. This is also true for Finland with its longer history of individualism. According to Oinonen the modern family has become an ideology, no longer closely connected to people's behaviour, but continuing to dominate our thinking.
Fernández Mostaza points to the paramount influence of the Catholic Church on the long persistence of conservative family values and policies in Spanish society. Though economic and social systems were already changing in the later years under Franco, these processes were of a peculiar nature, pushed by a policy of conservative modernization 'from the top', even a technocratic variant without extending civil, political and social rights. Religious groups have played a major role in this modernization process. Fernández Mostaza shows in particular the influence of the Catholic organization Opus Dei, whose members occupied key positions among political elites, both under Franco and in conservative democratic governments, and were main promoters of conservative modernization policy. A similar combination of tradition and modernity can be found in the family model and ideology of Opus Dei. In this model, the practical functions of the family are open to rationally motivated adaptations to social change, whereas their traditional value bases, the patriarchal nature of the family institution above all, are defended.

Family policy fields

The rise in female employment is one of the most important changes in the social division of labour in European societies which has strongly affected family policies. Sarah Grattan and Eva Sundström address this issue in their contributions. Grattan compares Ireland and The Netherlands, countries characterized by a traditional division of labour between men and women before the 1970s, with among the lowest female employment rates and the highest fertility rates in Europe. Both countries can be characterized by late cultural and socio-economic modernization. In contrast to Ireland, most of the rise in female employment in The Netherlands has been part-time. Grattan argues that part-time work has been the specific Dutch solution to the problem of compatibility of family and work, although labour market policies have also played a role. The country has become Europe's first and leading part-time economy based on social consensus between government and social partners and supported by policies aiming towards equal status of part-time and full-time work.
The significance of the rise in female employment is not confined to labour markets but touches issues of family work and compatibility of parenthood and employment. Attitudes partly reflect these differences. Eva Sundström's analysis of gender attitudes regarding female employment in Sweden, Italy, and Germany reveals that, not unexpectedly, Swedes have the most positive attitudes towards female employment in general. Germans have more conservative attitudes than both Swedes and Italians. They especially dislike mothers' full-time employment. Differences between countries show 'national' attitude patterns which may in part be attributed to structural conditions.
Lone mothers have received particular attention in family policy studies as a growing group, living in disadvantaged conditions with high poverty risks. Elisabetta Ruspini analyses lone mothers' poverty risks in five European countries and finds huge variations. Countries strongly supporting female employment, like the Scandinavian countries and countries with well-developed family policies like Belgium (or France), show lower poverty risks than countries in which both integration into the labour force and family benefits are less developed, like in Britain.
Claudia Gardberg Morner's article studies lone mothers' living conditions and economic strategies in the city of Turin. She analyses how mothers interact with welfare authorities, employers, neighbours, father(s) of their child(ren), and their families of origin, developing strategies to cope with their difficult life situation Some crucial aspects characterize the Italian context. The public welfare system is underdeveloped and provides only discretionary benefits. Neighbourhood solidarity does not exist. On the other hand, lone mothers receive substantial support from their families of origin, which is often perceived as ambivalent, since it creates dependencies.
Child care is the topic in the contributions of Wendy Sims-Schouten, Bente Nicolaysen and Birgit Fix. Sims-Schouten studies child-care systems in England, Finland and Greece, showing major variations both in public and private provisions and parents' attitudes. Finland has one of the most developed public child-care systems in Europe. Finnish parents seem to be satisfied with the provided services and regard them as both professional and welcoming to the child. England has an expensive, high-quality private child-care system and limited public provision for children at risk. Parents seem to be satisfied regarding the quality of institutions, even if a lack of affordable places is reported. In Greece, there are few public child-care facilities, and existing public institutions have a bad reputation; the predominant child-care arrangement is the grandmother or alternatively a babysitter hired on the black market.
In recent years, the contribution of voluntary associations to social welfare has received growing attention. Even in Scandinavia they have strongly influenced welfare state developments. Bente Nicolaysen shows that traditions of voluntary social work have greatly influenced child-care ideas and practices in Norway. She analyses how Froebel's ideas have evolved among groups of benevolent middle class women in the 19th and early 20th centuries and how these traditions have been integrated into the growing public child-care sector.
Birgit Fix' contribution highlights the relevance of historical church-state cleavages for developments of child-care institutions, especially kindergartens and preschools. Her comparison includes countries with relative strong church-state cleavages (Belgium), religiously mixed populations (The Netherlands, Germany), and a country where state and church had acted as partners throughout most of its history (Austria). She argues that stronger church-state cleavages lead to more developed church-based kindergarten and preschool systems. Results show that in all countries except Austria the churches have developed extensive networks of kindergartens and preschools. The exception of Austria is explained by the fact that there was no longlasting strong competition between state and church for the social integration of the population.
In the last section of the book, Claus Wendt and Helena Laaksonen study policies for children and youth. Wendt analyses child health services in Britain, Denmark, Austria, and Germany. Two of the four countries have national health services; two have statutory sickness insurance systems. Wendt works out competitive and cooperative elements in these two types and analyses consequences for child health services. He argues that universal access to services and broadly based financing are of paramount importance for children's health care needs. Furthermore, service coordination, preventive measures, and free exchange of information are crucial. In these aspects, national health services have advantages over insurance systems. On the other hand, access to specialist care and paediatricians is easier in insurance systems.
Helena Laaksonen's study on the welfare of young adults between labour market, state, and family is motivated by the impact of this crisis on young people's life chances, in particular in Finland which was hit hardest. Her study on the economic situation of young adults in Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Finland reveals three broad patterns. In Southern European countries, youth unemployment has been persistently high. Young people stay in education longer, but do not receive substantial study grants. The system depends heavily on family solidarity and support. In Germany youth unemployment is low and transition to work relatively smooth. Young adults have a chance to become economically independent as workers at an early stage in life. Students, however, remain dependent on financial assistance from their family of origin because the German study grant system is modest. In Scandinavia, under the impact of recession, young people have become more dependent on both the family and the state because job chances have worsened. In comparative perspective, however, the state still takes large responsibility for providing young people with means for subsistence, even if they have been frequently pushed into work or education programmes.

Pfenning, Astrid, and Thomas Bahle, eds. (2000): Families and Family Policies in Europe: Comparative Perspectives. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 359pp., DM 98.00, ISBN 3-631-37078-4.

Esping-Andersen, G. (1999). Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gauthier, A. H. (1999). 'The sources and methods of comparative family policy research'. Comparative Social Research 18: 31-56.
Hantrais, L. (1999). 'Comparing family policies in Europe'. In J. Clasen, ed. Comparative Social Policy. Concepts, Theories, Methods. Oxford: Blackwell: 95-113.
Kamerman, S. and A. Kahn, eds. (1978). Family Policy: Government and Families in Fourteen Countries. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kaufmann, F. X. (1993). 'Familienpolitik in Europa'. In Bundesministerium für Familie und Senioren, ed. 40 Jahre Familienpolitik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Rückblick, Ausblick. Neuwied: Luchterhand: 141-68.

Dr. Thomas Bahle/ Astrid

MZES,Research Department A
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Astrid Pfenning and Thomas Bahle have been managers of a Training and Mobility Programme for Young Researchers. 'Family and Welfare State in Europe', co-ordinated by the MZES. The book presents results of this programme.